TIPS FROM TRAVELS: HISTORY TEACHES

I thought I would share with you some creativity insights from a trip I took with a friend in 2002.

As we drove through the absolutely beautiful countryside of the relatively unknown Dordogne region of France, with its picturesque villages, castles, prehistoric cave paintings, delicious wine and food, I was reminded of the importance of history in creativity.  We tend to dismiss the impact of history and too often associate creativity with coming up with something brand new. Similarly, the notion of “creative destruction” is frequently considered a prerequisite for organizational innovation and creativity. I hold a quite different view. I believe history plays a critical role in innovation for two reasons.

First, Few creative ideas are truly original. Most are built on the work of others. Which is why a proper understanding and appreciation of history is so important!

Let’s look at an example.

The invention of the printing press, considered by many to be the greatest invention in history, was not the work of one individual. Years of small adaptations and persistence by many who preceded Gutenberg paved the way. Gutenberg’s creative contribution of moveable type was the last step.

Secondly, history not only provides a foundation on which to adapt.  Understanding history also contributes insights into the context in which a change or innovation will occur. Appreciating the history of an organization, its culture and its experience with other strategic changes is a vital step in managing the challenges of selling and implementing an innovation, often the most critical factors contributing to the success of the innovation.

I know I am learning a great deal from helping my 94-year-old co-author write his legacy.  In reading the stories he writes about World War II, growing up in the depression, cherishing his family and friends with love and laughter, and starting his own business in the 1960’s, I find so many lessons from this fine example of what Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation.”

So, rather than dismissing history and those who remind us of its critical lessons, we need to recognize that “history teaches us what not to do more often than what to do. The key is, though, history teaches.”

How do you feel about history and its role in successful innovations?

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